In December 1935, the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (society for the abolition of caste system) invited BR Ambedkar to deliver a speech. Ambedkar wrote the speech, titled it as ‘Annihilation of Caste’, and sent it to the organisers in Lahore for the purpose of printing and distribution. But organisers were members of Arya Samaj, who found that some of the points against Hinduism were ‘unbearable’ and subsequently withdrew the invitation. Furious with how the events panned out, Ambedkar published the speech as a book at his own expense in May 1936. The second edition was out in 1937 and the third was circulated in 1944.
As we entered May 2014, the ‘Annihilation of Caste’ approached its 78th anniversary and the Nitin Aage was brutally murdered. On 28 April, this 17-year-old Dalit boy was found hanging from a tree near Kanhoba hill, Ahmednagar district. His alleged infatuation towards an upper caste girl proved to be his fatal mistake. This is second incident in Ahmednagar after Sonai case, where three youngsters were cruelly murdered. Adding to the growing list of atrocities against Dalits, they were killed by a mob of upper caste men to keep their family’s honour intact. One of those killed was in love with the daughter of an upper caste farmer. Besides, social activists believe that such instances have seen an upward graph in the last year or two. Smaller instances are lost in the woods.
Ironically, the year 2012, which saw the second edition of ‘Annihilation of Caste’ complete 75 years, touched the peak of atrocities in Tamil Nadu according to a story done by The Hindu.
Independent India has consistently seen such atrocities. The Kilvenmani massacre in 1968 in Tamil Nadu saw 42 Dalit labourers burnt to death. The incident occurred when Communist Party of India, following the boom in agricultural production created by the Green Revolution, talked landless peasants into a campaign for higher wages. A gang arrived at the village in eastern Thanjavur, herded a group of around 42 villagers into a hut, and burned them to death.
The Namantar Andolan, which was a 16-year-long Dalit campaign to rename Marathwada University in recognition of BR Ambedkar, brought paranoia for Dalits in the Marathwada district. In 1977, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vasantdada Patil, promised that the renaming would occur and in July 1978 the Maharashtra Legislature approved it. This did not go down well with Marathas. Riots broke out in 1,200 villages in Marathwada, affecting 25,000 Dalits and causing thousands of them to seek refuge in jungles. The terrorised Dalits did not return to their villages in spite of starvation. Members of the Maratha community allegedly organised this violence. It included killings, molestation, and rape of Dalit women, burning of houses and huts, pillaging of Dalit colonies, forcing Dalits out of villages, polluting drinking water wells, destruction of cattle and refusal to employ. This continued for 67 days. It achieved some success in 1994 when the compromised name of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University was accepted.
The case of Phoolan Devi is also well known. Apart from that, the Ranvir Sena, which was proscribed in 1995 by Bihar government, slaughtered 21 Dalits in July 1996 in Bihar. Among the dead were 11 women, six children and three infants. This caste-supremacist group was known for its violence against Dalits and scheduled castes to thwart reforms aimed at their emancipation. In December 1997, Ranvir Sena gunned down 58 Dalits at Laxmanpur Bathe.
In September 2006, a heinous crime occurred in Maharashtra. Four members of the Bhotmange family belonging to the Mahar Dalit underclass were slaughtered in Kherlanji, a small village in Bhandara district. The women of the family were paraded naked in public, then allegedly gang-raped before being murdered.
There is a laundry list of such dreadful instances. These are merely a few examples of this dark history, a tip of the iceberg. The fact remains that even though we have removed caste from the census, the most vital collective identity in India remains caste. It is etched in people’s minds.
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked about the need for social reforms, he opined that they could not be forced. Society can only change when the evolution comes from within. Dipankar Gupta, in his essay ‘Assertion of Identities’, has written, ‘Caste system may be on its last legs but caste identities are as strong as ever.’ Not long ago, few women accused Lakshman Mane, a renowned writer who has also been bestowed Padmashree, of rape. It stumped a lot of people and his colleagues and NGOs in his area stood by him, refusing to believe these claims. However, those of the upper caste did not hold back and loathed him. Is it just a coincidence that Mane from the lower caste? Why was it just the upper caste who condemned him? Would they have done the same if the person in question was one of their kin? I doubt.
Our astute politicians are well aware of this mentality. Therefore, caste alliances and politics go hand in hand. When VP Singh accepted the Mandal Commission Report in 1990, violent reaction gripped some of the cities in North India. In cities like Delhi, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and so on, students went berserk. Army had to be called out in Jaipur. Singh was revered as the messiah of backwards and the opposition leader LK Advani was heckled and attacked by Delhi University Students. The intentions of Singh can be debated but the Mandal Commission achieved exactly the contrary of what it set out to be because of the politics played around it. The opposition had to come up with an idea to counter the card played by Singh and Rath Yatra was the answer. After Advani launched his Yatra, Singh called up Atal Bihari Vajpayee to ask why they were doing it. ‘Aap ne Mandal kiya toh hum kamandal kiye’, replied Vajpayee.
Consequentially, caste identities were invigorated instead of being undermined.
In 2009 Loksabha elections, Ramdas Athawle was defeated by a Shiv Sena candidate, with Congress secretly supporting the latter. Merely to oust a lower caste, two opposition parties stooped low enough and conspired with each other. This parochial mindset has traversed through professions. There are cases of promotions being delayed based on caste. Even police officers and government officials do not investigate a Dalit atrocity with as much zeal.
The National Dalit Movement for Social Justice (NDMSJ) and Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), expressing concern over low conviction rate in cases related to atrocities against Dalits, alleged that the state government failed to implement SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 properly. They released a status report on implementation of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Taking up 199 cases of atrocities against Dalits in different parts of the state, they alleged that the Act had not been effective in preventing the atrocities.
Moreover, a story in dna in 2011 showed that 86% of such cases are pending in Maharashtra.
While we promptly criticise the racism in America, these atrocities are as deplorable if not more. Many decades ago, Ambedkar had said, ‘Hindus are rats living in their own holes’. In the 21st century, generalising would definitely be inappropriate. However, Ambedkar’s words still apply to a good chunk of people following this ‘tolerant’ religion.